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Reality / Mediality
Hybrid processes between art and life
Rudolf Frieling


It is astonishing how artists' positions were polarized from the moment they began to work with electronic media: Whereas some worked with (or against) their chosen mediums in order to emphasize corporeal presence and materiality, others investigated aspects of immateriality and other possibilities opened up by the apparent disappearance of the physical body brought about by the media. As early as the 1960s, the conceptual and technological foundations for virtualizing the body had been laid, as yet undisturbed by any theoretical discourses about displacement and simulation. This essay deals with a broad spectrum of hybrid processes between art and life. Its examination of the concepts underlying happening, action and performance art focuses on the question about the body—about the body along with its media interconnections as a field of both private and public action—and moves back and forth between public, collective structures that were participatorial in a number of regards, and personalized body-related performances delivered in a dialogue with the audience. In view of contemporary art practices that are returning to, and under new premises investigating, precisely those radical beginnings of process-based art


made with and in the media, the question of authenticity has lost nothing of its relevance in regard to performative media art. The borders with site-specific installations and interactive environments may be porous, yet it seems feasible to suggest that exactly this insistence on the reality of the body is a central motif in more recent actions that make the body the arena of telematic and Net-based interventions. Although I initially scrutinize the influence of twentieth-century avant-garde currents on the relationship between happening, action art and performance[1] and the media, Modernist critique of the imaging and representation of the body is not highlighted (interesting though the subject is). Instead, I concentrate on the question of the ambiguities and hybrid processes that «occur» in the media-based field of action.

Retinal shock

An entire Hollywood tradition is based on the symbolic cinema experience of watching bodies being injured, and physical and mental violence being inflicted; shocking scenes are aimed at the viewers' mind and have an impact not just on the retina but on the

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